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The rise and rise of white-collar salaried aristocracy in India

Aug 21, 2023 11:59 PM IST

An HT analysis shows that the real economic winner over the last decade has been the white-collar salaried workforce

There were around 76,000 more so-called crorepatis (those earning over 1 crore) by income tax returns in 2022-23 when compared to 2021-22. When seen in conjunction with the fact that the number of those with incomes up to 5 lakh (again, by returns) has stayed almost flat, there’s a strong suggestion of a skewed growth in incomes.

A look at what ITR data shows about the white-collar salaried workforce.(File photo)

But even more illuminating is the publication of Income Tax Return (ITR) data – this includes both income tax and corporation tax filings – for assessment year (AY) 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22 recently. AY 2021-22 captures incomes in fiscal year 2020-21. The earliest period for which we have this data is AY 2012-13.

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The data can help us understand the transformation in India’s political economy. That this has transformed since the 1991 economic reforms is now a cliché. Three decades is too long a time interval to be treated as a monolithic block. The Indian economy has seen multiple disruptions such as the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, the subsequent macro-economic fragility in the early 2010s and the formalisation push which was unleashed by the Narendra Modi government since 2016.

The data is all the more important because we do not have a consumption expenditure survey, economic census, decennial census or survey of informal sector enterprises in the last few years.

And sure enough, its analysis has been rewarding: An HT analysis shows that the real economic winner over the last decade has been the white-collar salaried workforce. Here are some charts which explain this argument in detail.

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